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Professor Coaches Canine 'Student'

 

 
Alby was a familiar sight on campus this year while training as a service dog with physical education professor Cindy Jennings.

Professor Cindy Jennings believed if she could train a dog, teaching college students should be a cinch.

For 16 months Jennings, an assistant professor of physical education and head women’s track and field coach, trained Alby, a male golden retriever, to help people with disabilities. Jennings and Alby arrived on campus in August and were almost inseparable until Alby’s departure Feb. 19. Alby went to a faculty meeting in a lecture room with 75 professors, the weight room in the Small Multi-Sports Center where Jennings taught a class, and to a Pet Therapy session in The Commons.

“Cornell has a very active service culture and a commitment to good will,” said Dennis Moore, dean of the college. “We were happy to welcome Alby, as well as Cindy, to campus. Her project has raised some consciousness, which also makes it an educational project.”

Jennings received Alby when he was 2 months old. Before she turned him over to an advanced trainer at age 18 months, the dog was well-behaved in public and able to complete approximately 30 commands. To aid the socialization, service dogs are allowed anywhere their trainers go, including all buildings at Cornell or a seat by their trainers on an airplane.

“I get questioned about having a dog with me in stores or restaurants every now and then in Iowa, but I think that’s because there is no program around here,” Jennings said. “When I tell people Alby’s a service dog, they don’t question why he’s with me.”

Alby’s progress at learning commands dazzled not only students, but Jennings herself.

“It’s interesting how much a dog can learn,” Jennings said. “Before Alby I never had a dog that could open drawers, doors, or the refrigerator. He pushed the handicap button to open doors and completed basic retrieval commands.”

With just 16 months to learn so many things, one could say Alby had been cramming for his exams.

“I gave a presentation for the education department,” Jennings said. “I put Alby’s two manuals on the table, which were about 6 inches thick, and told the students, ‘Alby can’t read and he can’t take notes. But he still doesn’t complain that he has to learn all this material.’”

 
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